Mozarks

Clockwise from left: Babe as the fashionable golfer. Mrs. Kerr in their fancy, new-fangled automobile. Babe saluted in the “Sportslight” in the local newspaper at the age of 93. Babe still cut a dapper figure in his golden years.

 In his about three and a half decades in the saloon business in Springfield, and with his other business interests, Babe Kerr apparently managed to make enough money to make him and his wife comfortable for the many years to come.

In fact, at the time of the 1920 census, Babe and his wife were living in Miami, Fla., apparently having retired to the Florida life. That didn't last long, however, because they were soon back in the Ozarks at Springfield.

Babe seems to have been a friend to all men. A blurb in the Springfield Daily Leader of July 14, 1921, read like this: “’Dad' Stevenson, custodian of the Springfield Court of Appeals, was seen today smoking a queer looking pipe which he said that ‘Babe’ Kerr bought for him while in New York attending the Dempsey-Carpentier fight.”

Another story in that paper of the Dec. 19, 1922, issue said that Babe had received a letter from Germany from a man who was a former employee in the Kelley and Kerr Saloon and apparently still kept in touch with Babe.

Babe and his wife could afford to travel. In September 1921, the newspaper reported that Mrs. Kerr had just returned from a five-week tour of the West.

Being a newly minted man of leisure, Babe joined the Country Club (there was only one in town at that time and it was simply called that) and took up the gentleman's game of golf. He proved to be quite adept at it. A blurb from May 1922 reveals that Kerr was in the lead at an 18-hole medal play tournament at the Country Club.

Tennis was another game that Babe took up in his retirement. In September 1924, he competed for the city championship, and an article in the paper says, “York Johnson and M. Kerr displayed the most brilliant tennis of the day.”

Even though he was no longer in business, Babe remained active in the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, even serving on a committee in the summer of 1927. Also that summer, Babe won a “blind par” golf tournament in Springfield.

On the fourth day of October of that year, Babe, who commonly wore an expensive diamond stick pin in his tie and a diamond ring on one hand, returned to his home on Pickwick Avenue with his wife and a friend of his wife's. They had a detached garage in the back at the end of their driveway. Babe let the two women out and then went on to park the car in the garage.

When he climbed out of his car, he was accosted by a man with a revolver who took his ring and stick pin. The two pieces were valued at $5,000, which in today's dollars meant Babe was walking around with upwards of $68,000 on his finger and in his tie.

The man got away and Babe offered a $200 reward (equivalent to $2,700 in 2018 dollars). On Oct. 23, an ex-convict, who previously had been convicted of shooting a Frisco Railroad conductor in Lebanon after being thrown off a train, was arrested for the theft. He was convicted and sent to prison for the theft. There was no mention in the newspaper account that Babe's jewelry was recovered.

Although Babe did not think women belonged in saloons, he had no such qualms about their being on the golf course. In fact, he sponsored an 18-hole tournament for the women at the Country Club that an article in 1928 said was an annual event that “has proved unusually popular.” The winning golfer each year won the “M. Kerr Trophy.”

Babe, it would appear, was also kind to strangers in need. A story from 1930 tells about a young man named Henry who was down and out and did not even have the price of a street car token. “He told his grief to M. ‘Babe’ Kerr who handed him a small roll and that was the last ever heard of Henry.”

Mrs. Kerr was also active in the community. A newspaper story from 1930 concerns her entertaining members of her bridge club with a “delightful one o'clock luncheon at Half-A-Hill Tea House.”

Babe Kerr continued to keep himself busy playing golf and staying interested and involved in Springfield. He supposedly made a hole-in-one at Hickory Hills golf course in 1946 when he was 90 years of age.

He was featured in the newspaper in 1949 because at the age of 93 he still played six holes of golf each and every day.

Mathew H. “Babe” Kerr died Dec. 30, 1951. He was 95 years of age and had seen a lot of the history of the MOzarks.

Kerr was just a wee lad when he heard the cannons firing at the Battle of Wilson's Creek from his family’s farm. He most likely hunted for arrowheads on that farm left by the Delaware Indians when they lived there.

He was co-owner of a saloon that in an earlier incarnation was the Kirby Saloon that was reported to have been frequented occasionally by the likes of Wild Bill Hickok and by Buffalo Bill Cody.

And he helped usher in the modern era in 20th century Springfield.

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